Discovering the Fatherhood of God in a Gender-Neutral Society | Mary
Anastasia | IgnatiusInsight.com
Discovering the Fatherhood of God in a Gender-Neutral Society | Mary
In a popular movie of several years ago, a cherubic six-year-old girl blithely
explains her family drawing to her dumb struck kindergarten companions:
"This is Mark, he's my daytime Daddy; this is Peter, he's my main Daddy;
this is Jack, he's my biological Daddy; this is my Mommy, and this is me."
This situation, while admittedly contrived for the sake of the comedic story
line, still points up a "wrinkle" in modern thinking which sometimes
poses problems for the catechesis of children and adolescents. This "wrinkle,"
or, more properly, this deviation, is the clouding of the concept
of fatherhood. This lack of a human "reference point" can make
it very difficult to teach young people about the loving Fatherhood of God.
This paper will explore the background of the problem, and then look to
the Church's teaching for the response of Faith.
The first point to be examined in this review of the problem is one which
impacts all the other points. This is the assault on "manliness"
in our society today. A very wise man once said, "There is no one so
narrow as an open-minded liberal." This statement is illustrated by
the rabid way in which the "doctrine" known as "political
correctness" is wielded by that small but violently vocal segment of
society, the radical feminists. While claiming to champion "equality"
between males and females, they have really brought about the emasculation
of language and induced a "hunted quarry syndrome" among men today.
Those qualities of maleness which once defined the role of the man in the
fabric of society have been vilified into grounds for prosecution: the strength
which makes him the protector suddenly becomes "animalistic aggression";
the logic and lucidity which give him the ability to provide for his family
suddenly become "paternalistic oppression"; the love which moves
him to desire children is criticized as "patriarchal enslavement."
A generation of men has learned to suppress its instinctive chivalry for
fear of fiery retribution. Masculine forms of language have become the dirtiest
of swear words and masculinity in men (but not in women) a punishable offense.
In short, the essential dignity of being created "male" through
the deliberate act of the Creator has been shredded at the altar of misguided
This emasculated mind-set leads to tangible situations in which the concept
of fatherhood is darkened beyond recognition. Webster defines "father"
as both a noun and as a verb. As a noun, "father" is listed as
"a male parent," while in its verb form it means "to act
or serve as a father." In today's society, we very often see the noun
function without the verb function: biological fathering is not followed
by the continuing presence and nurturing of the male parent. The root of
this phenomenon lies in a defective understanding of sexuality, aptly described
by Pope John Paul II in his document, The Gospel of Life:
Sexuality, too, is depersonalized and exploited: from being the
sign, place and language of love, that is, of the gift of self and acceptance
of another, in all the other's richness as a person, it increasingly
becomes the occasion and instrument for self-assertion and the selfish
satisfaction of personal desires and instinct. 
The prevalence of pre-marital sex and the accepted, if not predestined,
ending of so many marriages by divorce, even among Catholics, deprives children
today of the manly tenderness and care which only a father can bestow. These
children do not have the sense of security provided in a nuclear family
headed by a strong yet loving man. Many single mothers labor with supreme
love and determined strength to meet both the physical and emotional needs
of their children. But the fact remains:
God created man and woman together and willed each for
the other . . . Man and woman were made "for each other"-not
that God left them half-made and incomplete: he created them to be a
communion of persons, in which each can be "helpmate" to the
other, for they are equal as persons . . . and complementary as masculine
and feminine. In marriage, God unites them in such a way that, by forming
"one flesh," they can transmit human life. 
The transmission of human life, and its subsequent nurturing, is intended
by the Creator as a "joint project." For children who experience
only half of this "communion of persons," the transcending leap
to the Fatherhood of God is very difficult, if not impossible.
A second reason which makes the concept of a loving "God the Father"
difficult for young people to accept is the plague of domestic abuse in
families today. Whether this takes the form of physical violence or mental
torture, abuse is a daily event in the lives of increasing numbers of children.
Catechists today, attempting to find human analogies for the superhuman
love of the heavenly Father, are often faced with stony silence in response.
The "terrible secret" behind the blackened eyes and tormented
souls quenches any desire for a "Father" in heaven. The Church
acknowledges this when she seeks language in which to describe the transcendent
love of God:
The language of faith thus draws on the human experience of parents,
who are in a way the first representatives of God for man. But this
experience also tells us that human parents are fallible and can disfigure
the face of fatherhood and motherhood . . . . 
A fist constantly raised in anger or a constant "acid
rain" of sarcasm can, indeed, "disfigure" the face of fatherhood
to the point that the battered child runs from, rather than to,
a "Father" in heaven.
The various techniques of artificial reproduction, which would seem
to be at the service of life and which are frequently used with this
intention, actually open the door to new threats against life. Apart
from the fact that they are morally unacceptable, since they separate
procreation from the fully human context of the conjugal act, these
techniques have a high rate of failure: not just failure in relation
to fertilization but with regard to the subsequent development of the
embryo, which is exposed to the risk of death, generally within a very
short space of time. 
A headline screaming from a recent Newsweek magazine summarizes
the third issue which impinges on our modern concept of fatherhood. The
headline stated, "TwinsWith Two Fathers." The story detailed
the birth in Holland of twin boys conceived through in vitro fertilization.
Only after the twins were several months old did the parents begin to
realize that something in the procedure had gone horribly wrong:
It wasn't until two months later that the Stuarts
noticed that while one boy was as blond as his parents, the other's skin
was darkening and his brown hair was fuzzy. DNA tests confirmed that Wilma
had carried another man's baby-probably because a technician reused a
pipette that still contained some sperm from a previous insemination.
The dangers of this preponderance of "new techniques" and the
twisted thinking of those who utilize them are addressed by Pope John
This separation of the conception of children from the conjugal love of
parents skews the analogy sought by the "language of faith" quoted
earlier in this paper. The question could be raised, "Should we pray
to 'Our Father' or 'Our Petri Dish'?"
Finally, a growing trend in today's society obscures even further the picture
of human fatherhood. This trend is the legalization in many states of "alternative
lifestyles." "Single-sex couples" are being granted many
rights and privileges once reserved for what are now labeled "traditional
family units." In vitro techniques for conceiving children as
well as adoptive placement of children in homosexual households of both
genders threatens the integrity of the moral as well as the human development
of those children. The push to designate these alternative "units"
as "families" completely defies the teaching of Christ, acknowledged
in the natural law and codified in the teaching of the Church:
A man and a woman united in marriage, together with their children
form a family. This institution is prior to any recognition by public
authority, which has an obligation to recognize it. It should be considered
the normal reference point by which the different forms of family relationships
are to be evaluated. 
In no way can "alternative families" be considered in conformity
with this "normal reference point." Media coverage of such aberrations
contributes to the confusion of many children today over the idea of "father,"
making correct catechesis all the more necessary.
Thus, the "politically correct" environment and these four infections
which flow from it-absent fathers, abusive fathers, "artificial"
fathers, and "alternative" fathers-are poisoning the vision of
our young people today, making it difficult for them to comprehend the transcendent
fatherhood of God. As a beam of intense light can burn out a bodily infection
and begin the process of healing, so can the strong rays of Faith's light
cleanse these infections of the spirit, revealing to this confused generation
of children the face of God the Father. We must turn to Holy Mother
Church, as the custodian of the Faith, for this shining antidote.
Since the environment in which our students are immersed very often precludes
reference to human fathers as dim examples of the Fatherhood of God, we
must bring them to this knowledge by other means. One such method is human
reason enlightened by Faith. Focused through the twin lenses of Sacred Tradition
and Sacred Scripture, a steady stream of revelation assists natural reason
in coming to an understanding of God's Fatherhood. Students today are very
literal-minded. They are able to follow the mechanics of reason and to assent
to a conclusion reached by that process: the existence of a Creator. After
settling side issues, such as, "Where do the Aliens fit into the Creation
story?", they are open to continuing the search for the personal identity
and the attributes of this Creator. Guided by Faith, this search will collide
head-on with the infections contaminating today's perception of manliness.
Shifting from what God shows about himself in his Creation, the search
turns to what he tells about himself through his revelation. In answer
to the prevailing scorn directed at masculinity, the Church points to her
Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, clearly documented in Christian and non-Christian
sources as "a man among men." This constant teaching of the Fathers
is reaffirmed by Pope Pius XII in his encyclical, Haurietis Aquas:
. . . Nothing, then, was wanting to the human nature which the Word
of God united to Himself. Consequently He assumed it in no diminished
way, in no different sense in what concerns the spiritual and the corporeal:
that is, it was endowed with intellect and will and the other internal
and external faculties of perception, and likewise with the desires
and all the natural impulses of the senses. 
The masculine humanity of Jesus shines forth in every page of the Gospel:
in childhood as the only son of the family of Nazareth, he followed his
"father," Joseph, in the carpenter's trade; in his public ministry
as the wise teacher and gentle healer, he made use of homely examples in
his preaching and applied "judicious force" when necessary to
get his point across (i.e., the cleansing of the temple); in his passion
and death, he strengthened his friends with the everlasting memorial of
his Body and Blood and then looked to them for support in his last mortal
agony. His injunction to his apostles was carried out by them and passed
down to all ages, "What I have done is to give you an example. As I
have done, so must you do" (John 13:15). 
This man Jesus, the Son of God, is also the most authoritative source for
describing God as Father: "Because he 'has seen the Father,' Jesus
Christ is the only one who knows him and can reveal him."  In the
Sacred Scriptures, Jesus repeatedly refers to the "Father who sent
me," giving clues in numerous passages as to what this "Father"
is like and implying that these qualities of fatherhood are also exercised
toward men as adopted sons:
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. [Matt. 6:8]
. . . how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to anyone
who asks him. [Matt. 7:11] Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.
[Luke 6:36] Do not live in fear, little flock. It has pleased your Father
to give you the kingdom. [Luke 12:32] God so loved the world that he
gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die, but may
have eternal life. [John 3:16] . . . it is my Father who gives you the
real heavenly bread. [John 6:32] 
Thus does the search for "fatherhood" reach its culmination. The
Catechism of the Catholic Church sums it up in this way:
By calling God "Father," the language of faith indicates
two main things: that God is the first origin of everything and transcendent
authority; and that he is at the same time goodness and loving care
for all his children . . . He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood,
although he is their origin and standard: no one is father as God is
Through the path of reason and Revelation described above, it will be possible
to help students today understand God as Father. The greatest aid in this
process will be lived example: priests, teachers, and parents who
are comfortable in their identity, making no apology for their maleness
or femaleness, living in charity with each other and with the society at
large, understanding the weaknesses of those who defy God's law yet not
condoning the defiance, working to heal the disfigurement of man and restore
him to the image and likeness of God. Uniting these qualities with a deep
and obvious prayer life will provide a firm foundation on which the next
generation may continue to heal the infections of our society, giving their
children a true experience of human fatherhood from which they may behold
the Fatherhood of God.
[This article originally appeared in the June 1996 issue of Homiletic
& Pastoral Review.]
 Pope John Paul II, The Gospel of Life, number 23 (St. Paul Books
and Media, Boston, 1995), p. 43.
 Numbers 371-372, Catechism of the Catholic Church, English Translation,
(St. Paul Books and Media, 1994), pp. 94-95.
 Ibid., number 239, p. 63.
 Elliott, Dorinda and Endt, Frisa, "Twins-With Two Fathers,"
Newsweek, vol. 126, number 1, July 3, 1995, p. 38.
 Pope John Paul II, The Gospel of Life, number 14, (St. Paul Books
and Media, Boston, 1995), p. 29.
 Number 2202, Catechism of the Catholic Church, English Translation,
(St. Paul Books and Media, 1994), p. 532.
 Pope Pius XII, Haurietis Aquas, number 40, (Sacred Heart Publication
Center, Orlando, 1974), p. 20.
 Catholic Biblical Association of America, The New American Bible,
(Catholic Book Publishing Co., New York, 1970).
 Number 151, Catechism of the Catholic Church, English Translation,
(St. Paul Books and Media, 1994), p. 41.
 Catholic Biblical Association of America, The New American Bible,
(Catholic Book Publishing Co., New York).
 Number 239, Catechism of the Catholic Church, English Translation,
(St. Paul Books and Media, 1994), p. 63.
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